AMERICANS are finding that their money doesn't go as far as it used to. Many of us are forced to cut back, make sacrifices. Nothing irritates us more than people who hold themselves above the economic crunch -- especially if they are our elected representatives.
At a recent public forum at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County, County Executive Dennis Rasmussen, members of the County Council and their challengers were invited to speak. Only two incumbents (Bill Evans, D-6th; and Barbara Bachur, D-4th) attended. The county executive sent his political consultant, one of those fellows our high-falutin' politicians employ to make sure the right words come out of their mouths.
Roger Hayden, Republican challenger for county executive, was there along with seven Republican challengers (George Murphy, 2nd District; Henry Merchant, 3rd District; Douglas Riley, 4th District; Patricia Fullagar, 5th District; William Howard, 6th District; and Lawrence Williams, 7th District) and one Democrat (Vince Gardina, 5th District), vying for seats on the County Council.
The gut-rending issue was money and how the county spends it. Cited were runaway spending (from $821 million to $1.2 billion in four years), the burgeoning county payroll (720 new positions in one year), the spending of $3 million for cosmetic improvements to the Towson courthouse and the $32 million 911 system.
Despite years of record spending in Baltimore County, schools are overcrowded, roads are gridlocked and affordable housing is practically non-existent, while drugs and crime intrude daily on our lives. People are coming to the conclusion that pouring more and more tax dollars into a system that has proven grossly inefficient is not the answer. The answer lies in conservative accounting practices and fiscal accountability which includes cutting out government waste. Those incumbents who continue to intone the mantra of higher taxes need to be replaced by leaders who know how to operate within financial constraints.
At Loch Raven High School that evening, the fierce anti-incumbent mood was evidenced by the response of the audience. Challenger speeches were consistently rewarded with enthusiastic applause. In the early part of the evening, the incumbents, including Rasmussen's representative, received a perfunctory hand. By midpoint, however, resentment and hostility so charged the air that the incumbents were sent back to their seats in conspicuous silence.
They did not deserve approval. They offered no insights, no creative solutions, just the same tired old party line. Couldn't they see they had lost credibility? It is all too clear to the public that re-electing incumbents ensures business as usual. And that has proven to be a disaster.
There is a significant rift between the people and the politicians of Baltimore County. As the current recession in Maryland grows deeper and state and local taxes are raised to make up the shortfall, this rift will become enormous. The Linowes Commission will recommend a higher tax burden after the election; Baltimore County will ask for more revenue by raising the piggyback tax on the state income tax. Good news for the politicians; their job will be easier. They can avoid the really tough process of shrinking the appetite of big government by claiming that reduced revenues equal reduced services and unemployment.
Our politicians have failed to notice the growing sophistication of their constituency. The people realize a reduction in the amount of money the administration has to spend must result in more efficient use of revenues and increased productivity of those on the public payroll. Yes, it is going to be a painful process. But with wise, creative, responsible leadership, the long-term gain will be well worth it.
Patricia Rybak writes from Glen Arm.